The meaning of life is not a thing. It is an idea. The self is not one component, but instead a collection of things that have birthed some sort of illusion. Your day to day problems are not real, tangible things, they are concepts – like self and the meaning of life – that you’ve been thrust upon.
A forest is a concept – which is to say a conceptualization created by humans. In reality, a forest is just a collection of trees – trees, wildlife, grass, weather, fungi, dirt – these are the sub-concepts that a forest is comprised of; we’ll call these identities. Let’s work with one of these identities – trees. A tree is large, it is brown, wet, it is hard and sturdy. These are the characteristics of its identity. We will work with largeness. A tree that is large must actively maneuver around shadows to reach the sun, and it must absorbs nutrients. These responsibilities that bring forth characteristics will be referred to as grains or actions.
From concept, to identities, to characteristics, to actions. You can subtract a few identities, and you may still have a forest. You can subtract a few characteristics, and you’ll perhaps still have a tree. You can subtract a few actions, yet may see that your tree managed to become large. However, once you have enough actions, a characteristic will form. Once you have enough characteristics, an identity will form. And once you have enough identities, a concept will spring forth. If you truly want to understand the self, then start at the grains.
For the broader issues such as the meaning of life, or general problems, it seems to be counter productive to analyze from the top down, rather than from the bottom up. The human cannot comprehend the amalgam of grains if the grains have collected enough to build a concept. He must look deeper and understand many individual grains, and only once the logic behind many individual grains has become automatized within him may he fathom the whole concept. Remember this when trying to solve a problem – break it down to an action: if you focus on the whole before understanding the grains, you will likely lose.